By Casey Melnick
In this week’s review I will be discussing Weezer’s classic first album Weezer, otherwise known as the Blue Album. Released in 1994, this album ranks among the best debut records of all time and it just happens to be my favorite album, so I’m certainly not biased already. With the legendary Ric Ocasek at the helm as producer, the Blue Album is the perfect amalgamation of crunchy power pop and sugary yet endearing lyrics. Rivers Cuomo, the mastermind behind Weezer, makes it cool to be nerdy. Check it out.
- “My Name Is Jonas”
- “No One Else”
- “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here”
- “Buddy Holly”
- “Undone – The Sweater Song”
- “Surf Wax America”
- “Say It Ain’t So”
- “In the Garage”
- “Only in Dreams”
Snappy acoustic strings immediately conjure an uncanny sense of nostalgia. Seconds later, a wall of distorted fuzz hits. A bouncy bassline grabs your attention. Punchy drums and nonchalant vocals kick in. An instant ear-worm is born.
Throughout the Blue Album’s run time you will notice a common structure. In fact, more than half of the songs start almost exactly as stated above. There is a formula to these songs but let’s make it clear. It works incredibly well. This album is power pop at its finest.
In the opening track “My Name is Jonas,” this formula is immediately put to use. A lively acoustic riff begins the album and within seconds this gives way to crunchy power chords. While the instrumentals follow the power pop formula in a straightforward manner, the lyrics tell a somber story. Cuomo’s distinct vocals croon about childhood times now past and how “things were better then, once but never again.” On this track, Cuomo showcases his 90’s era vocal delivery that borders between melodic talking and singing. Amongst a layer of barber shop quartet-esque vocal harmonies, the (first!) bridge chants that “the workers are going home” before launching into an ascending guitar solo that pauses before a second similar bridge and resumes to close out the song. Not to forget the fun concurrent harmonica going absolutely insane.
“No One Else” tells a tongue in cheek story of an overbearing (read sexist) boyfriend. In this fast paced song, Cuomo jealously complains that his girlfriend is flirtatious and has “a big mouth” and that “she laughs a most everything.” In the chorus, Cuomo wishes for a girl that will essentially serve his wishes only which includes never putting makeup on and leaving the house when he is away. The 90’s were clearly a different time but one must understand the context of the song regardless. Musically, this song has a good bounce to it and the drums are especially prominent in the mix. The dynamic solo and numerous chords in the riff do a good job a painting a picture of a man caught between wanting a girlfriend to be his and one who want to break up with his girlfriend because she will never be his alone.
The third track, “The World Has Turned and Left Me Here,” reveals the just fate of the sexist and jealous boyfriend from the previous track. An acoustic riff works in unison with dense guitars and prominent drums before launching into the chorus. As the song title suggests, the world has turned and left the character alone with “an empty space” in lieu of his mistreated girlfriend. The chorus showcases the use of Weezer’s trademark harmonies as Cuomo’s anguished lyrics are punctuated by falsetto vocals, yielding a satisfying interplay. The weeping solo and wailing guitar octaves encapsulate the feelings of being left alone. The outro, a highlight of the album, features dueling vocal harmonies that effortlessly conjoin.
“Buddy Holly” is quite possibly the most well-known Weezer song. This song is a staple of 90’s radio so you must be going out of your way to avoid this song if you haven’t heard it. With slangy lyrics and nonstop energy, this song is the epitome of pop rock. A wall of distorted guitars immediately opens the song and this musical energy is maintained through the end. From the “what’s with these homies dissin’ my girl” line in the first verse to the Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore references in the chorus, Cuomo’s songwriting manages to straddle the lines between corny and genius. It’s also nearly impossible to not sing along with the ear worm chorus. Clocking in at a brisk two minutes and thirty-nine seconds, this is the shortest track on the album and the tightest.
The fifth track is another highlight of the album. “Undone- the Sweater Song,” starts off with a short, swinging riff that is accompanied by a spoken word skit involving party goers. When paired with Cuomo’s stream of consciousness lyrics such as “I’m me, me be, goddamn, I am,” the song lulls the listener into a dream like trance before exploding into a thick wall of guitars and vocal harmonies in the chorus. With a chorus booming “If you want to destroy my sweater/Hold this thread as I walk away” the song slowly “unravels” into a magnificent, distorted hodgepodge. This song exemplifies the mixing direction that Ocasek and the band were aiming for. The vocals, while clear, distinctly take a back seat to the powerful instrumentals in the EQ. Pulsating guitars and eerie falsetto vocals close out the song in a hectic cacophony.
“Surf Wax America” is an up-tempo cut that pays homage to the Beach Boys. Cuomo sings from the perspective of a flippant surfer who wants to get away from his responsibilities to surf. He is “bailing out” of life in favor of doing what he wants to do. The punk rock energy in the verses and first two choruses beckon the listener to bop his head in unison before the song dives into a Beach Boys style breakdown. Matt sharp, the band’s bassist, is pushed forward in the mix to showcase his
Mickey Mouse high pitched backing vocals that interweave with Cuomo’s soft delivery. This section functions as deep breath of tranquility before the waves start crashing down again to close out the song.
“Say it ain’t So” delves into themes of alcoholism and family woe. Arguably the most emotional song on the album, this song alternates between low key verses with funk-like instrumentals and fretful lyrics to violent choruses in which Cuomo conveys anguish and despair. “Say it ain’t so/Your drug is a heartbreaker” cries Cuomo as thick guitars pump like a despondent beating heart. Brilliance is captured in the bridge and solo. Cuomo reaches out to his alcoholic father who is now clean after he realizes he is living the same nightmare over again with his stepfather. Then the song falls into a gut wrenching solo that beautifully conveys the anxiety of the situation before terminating in an emotional final chorus with screaming guitars.
The deeply reminiscent “In the Garage” is a call back to Cuomo’s halcyon days of yesteryear in which he was safely sheltered in his garage, or secluded happy place. A recurring wistful harmonica opens the song before yielding to a palm muted verse laden with pop culture references of Cuomo’s youth. In the ultimate display of geek culture, Cuomo thinks back to the days of Dungeons and Dragons, comic books, and his “favorite rock group KISS.” In the chorus, Cuomo slowly delivers an ode to his garage. (Whether it was intentional or not, Cuomo’s boyish delivery of the word “Garage” adds an extra charm; it’s as if he is transformed into the young boy he once was and says “Grage” instead.) This song features a rather whimsical and playful guitar solo that meanders like a floating fancy or an imaginary friend. That’s…neat!
The penultimate cut of the album, “Holiday,” contains the most intricate and upfront vocal melodies. This song departs from the classic pop rock structure used in many of the previous songs. The band once again taps into its (crunchy) Beach Boys influences in this rocking waltz about taking a vacation to a land far away. A lively guitar solo framed by a swing drum beat sets the tone of the song before yielding to an unusual, drawn out vocal melody. This song features Cuomo singing about wanting to take a holiday no matter where the destination or familiarity of the foreign land. The choruses and bridge are the focal points of this song. In these sections, the band utilizes doo-wop harmonies that wouldn’t seem out of place in the 1950’s. The final triumphant chorus is quintessential Weezer. Cuomo emphatically closes out the song amongst a sea of backing harmonies before a final sustained note takes us away.
“Only in Dreams” is the longest song on the project and the most ambitious. This song summarizes the Weezer experience. The bass is bouncy, the guitars are thick and juicy, the drums are prominent in the mix, the vocals harmonize, the lyrics are pithy and iconic and the solo hits. Sweet Baby Jonas does it hit. In case it wasn’t obvious, this song is a play on the classic dream girl trope. The protagonist of the song tells a story of how he dreams about a girl in his mind but ultimately is too shy and introverted to take a chance and make a move in real life. Cuomo intentionally utilizes a combination of first and second person perspective in the chorus and verses, respectively. Through this alternation, Cuomo creates an anthem for the introvert. Though “You can’t resist her, she’s in your bones,” the protagonist still thinks it’s for the best that this dream lady remains ephemeral because “That way, there’s no way I will crush [her] pretty toenails into a thousand pieces…” Has there ever been such a beautiful line involving toenails? In terms of musical composition, the first half of the song features the most bass heavy mix thus far. This supple bass works perfectly with the clean guitars in the verses and it mimics the quiet moments of introspection and REM sleep. Cue the feedback. The chorus is a hypnotic jerk that jolts us back to reality as the realization hits that “when we wake, it’s all been erased.” Booming guitars and boisterous drums awake us for a brief moment before we momentarily fall back into the pontificating verses. At the halfway point of the song, Cuomo sadly repeats “only in dreams,” and the music swells. What comes next is one of the greatest climaxes in human history. Dueling guitars burst through the mix and at once we share the desperation and frustration felt by the protagonist. Everything has come to a raging point and then it terminates. A lonesome bass finishes the experience out. The record has met its conclusion and now emotional release is complete.
Editor’s Note: Lyrics pulled from https://genius.com/